‘Eureka,’ exclaimed Professor Rudolf Erchmann, in his thick German accent, poking his head above the random collection of test tubes, retorts, bunsen burners and phials in his untidy laboratory. He was a man of about sixty, small, bald, with squirrel tufts of white hair on either side of a large bald dome. His shoulders were stooped with years of bending over the tools of his trade. He was myopic, totally dedicated to his work and extremely batty.
‘Professor, what is it?’ asked his loyal assistant, Gebhardt Moritz, a man in his thirties with the honest, earnest manner of a social worker.
‘I have it here,’ said the Professor, brandishing a capsule between thumb and forefinger. One half of the capsule was red, the other white. A jar full of similar capsules stood by his side.
‘Please enlighten me,’ said Gebhardt.
‘A breakthrough of the most monumental proportions,’ replied the Professor, squinting at his assistant through the lenses of thick spectacles.
‘Can you explain further?’
‘It’s a new drug in easily ingested pill form,’ said the Professor, ‘I shall call it Nebinol.’
‘What’s in it?’ asked Gebhardt.
‘Ah, that is my secret. I do not wish the ingredients to fall into the hands of my competitors, especially that charlatan, Professor Humbert Micha.’
‘What does this pill of yours do?’
‘It is a cure for unhappiness,’ said the Professor. ‘There is so much misery in the world today - imagine if that cloak of despair could be lifted from the shoulders of the people by simply taking one of these each week.’
‘How do you know whether the pills will work?’ asked Gebhardt warily, knowing the Professor of old and anticipating his response.
‘Because, my dear Moritz, you will be the first to take one and you will report its effects to me.’
‘No fear. I’ve acted as your guinea pig with unfortunate results rather too often. Remember the cauliflower-flavoured bubble-gum which tasted like sewer-water or the micro-fibre football that almost produced a lawsuit when it was discovered it could only travel backwards?’
‘Pshaw. These were minor failures. This, my dear Moritz, will make rich men of us both.’
‘I still refuse to have anything to do with it.’
The Professor smiled, not ingratiatingly, but with the cunning of a fox.
‘As you wish.’
Gebhardt was working on an experiment to define whether honey bees disliked pop music, but there were no satisfactory results as yet. He was accustomed to taking a tea break at eleven in the morning, so he set the jar containing the bees on a shelf and turned off a record by Kraftwerk, in order to boil the kettle and make his morning brew. Unbeknown to him, the Professor had slipped a capsule of Nebinol into his cup. Within a few minutes Gebhardt’s whole aspect changed. He sat bolt upright in his chair and stared rigidly ahead of him. The Professor switched on a tape recorder.
‘Now, Moritz, as the capsule has undoubtedly started to do its job, so please describe to me your perceptions, as they unfold.’
‘It’s extraordinary,’ said Gebhardt. ‘It’s like drinking beer with razor blades in it. It’s like having one’s brains hammered out with segments of orange wrapped around a house brick.’
‘Capital,’ said the Professor. ‘It’s working. Carry on, Moritz, and speak more loudly so that I can capture the words more clearly in my machine here.’
‘The colours of the lab have changed from dun brown to gold and silver. There are butterflies, gorgeous blue butterflies, dancing, prancing, all over the ceiling. I see a vision of the Lady Madonna on that far wall. She’s smiling at me, waving. I want to giggle out loud. I want to ask Miss Marita Ulrike out on a date - she won’t refuse because I am now capable of executing outstanding feats. She cannot fail to be impressed by my new extrovert nature.’
‘Excellent,’ said the Professor, rubbing his hands.
‘I can hear colours and see sounds,’ said Gebhardt. ‘The bees are singing tuneful melodies in their jar - I can see them clearly.’
‘Do you feel happy?’ asked the Professor.
‘As happy as a clown, as ecstatic as a lottery winner, as carefree as a traffic- warden. I have never experienced anything like the joy I feel. I could even kiss you, Professor.’
‘I say, steady on. Remember your place.’
‘My sensory perceptions are sharp as gimlets. Professor, I can discern your brain working, the very cogs turning. You are a genius and Nebinol will save mankind.’
‘That’s enough for the moment, my dear Moritz - there is no point in overdoing it. Go and lie down on the chaise longue in the corner. The rest will do you good.’
Gebhardt did as he was bid, removed his shoes, lay on his back on the couch and closed his eyes. A period of silence followed whilst the Professor returned to his test tubes.
Suddenly, Gebhardt wailed, a prolonged, frightening sound like an air-raid siren. The Professor bounded over to where his assistant lay.
‘What is it, my dear fellow,’ he asked.
‘Spiders,’ he said, ‘spinning webs in front of my eyes. Mosquitoes, in my mouth, biting, stinging. Dust, swirling all around, choking me, suffocating me. I’m going. Mother, I’m going.’
The Professor was in a state of panic for he’d had no time to produce an antidote.
‘Despair, dumbness, desertion and death will follow me as truly as I lie here. Professor, you have murdered me. My blood is on your hands.’
‘I’ll ring for an ambulance,’ the Professor said, ‘We’ll get you to hospital. I’ll contact Dr Hartmann, he’s the best psychologist there is. You’ll make a full recovery, I hope.’
The ambulance arrived and carted the distraught Gebhardt away, leaving the Professor alone amongst the clutter of his laboratory. Sadly, he picked up the jar of Nebinol capsules, walked into the tiny annexe that served as a bathroom and tipped the whole lot down the toilet.